The STD that looks like cauliflower is genital warts. But what causes genital warts and how to avoid acquiring them? Genital warts are one of the most common STDs that appear in the moist parts of the genitals. Sometimes they are visible and may look like a cauliflower. Other times, they may adopt to the skin color or be too small to be visible with a naked eye. Also, they might look like a bump. Therefore, it might be hard to notice them, especially if they grow inside the genitals. This article will focus on genital warts, their cause, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. 

Causes of genital warts

Genital warts is an STD caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV has many strains and may cause from mild diseases to life-long ones, or even cervical or oral cancer. Most people acquire an HPV infection as soon as they become sexually active. However, most people fight most of them in about two years. Strains of HPV that cause genital warts usually manifest with exacerbations over the years. When left untreated, they might expand and cause considerable discomfort and pain. 

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Risk factors of genital warts

Risk factors increase an individual's chance of getting a disease. The following are some of the most well-established risk factors for genital warts:

  • Having unprotected sex increases an individual's chance of getting genital warts considerably
  • Having multiple partners raises your chances of acquiring genital warts
  • Having a history of STDs puts you at a higher risk of getting genital warts. Find out if you have any with an STD rapid kit test at home, and in less than twenty minutes.
  • Having sex with a stranger or a new partner whose sexual history you don't know increases your risk for genital warts
  • Having your first sexual experience very early raises your chances of getting genital warts
  • Being immunocompromised makes you more vulnerable to other STDs, including genital warts

Symptoms and signs of genital warts

Genital warts are benign growths that may look like a bump or like cauliflower. They might be darker than your skin, or they might adapt to the color of your skin. Also, they might appear on both men and women. In females, they might appear in the following areas:

  • vulva
  • walls of the vagina
  • anus
  • the anal canal
  • cervix

Men might get genital warts on the shaft of their penis or its tip, scrotum, anus, and anal canal. However, genital warts may also appear in the oral cavity, as a result of unprotected oral sex, with an individual that has active genital warts. 

Signs and symptoms of genital warts include itchiness, discomfort, bleeding upon sex, and pain.

Diagnosing genital warts

Usually, the diagnosis of genital warts requires a clinical examination. When it is uncertain whether you have genital warts or not, a biopsy might be necessary. Generally, women need to undergo a Pap test and a pelvic examination regularly. A Pap test will show you whether the cells of your cervix look healthy. During the procedure, he or she will collect a smear of your cervical tissue to send it to the lab. During the laboratory examination, the doctor might also check whether you are positive for some of the dangerous strains of HPV. 

Genital warts in a male (more progressed than female patient) and female patient

Treatment of genital warts

Asymptomatic genital warts or those that do not cause considerable discomfort might not need treatment. However, if you experience intense symptoms and signs, or if you don't want to spread the STD to your partner, your doctor might recommend some therapeutic options to manage your exacerbations. However, genital warts will keep on coming back and reappearing. 

Medication for genital warts

Medication used to treat genital warts are the following, and they are topical treatments that you apply directly to them:

  • Imiquimod.
  • Podophyllin and podofilox.
  • Trichloroacetic acid.
  • Sinecatechins.

Surgical options for genital warts

Larger warts that cause considerable discomfort might require one of the following surgical approaches:

  • Cryotherapy (freezing).
  • Electrocautery.
  • Surgical excision (cutting them off).
  • Laser removal.

Prevention of genital warts

Things you can do to prevent getting genital warts are:

  • Try and be monogamous.
  • Try and limit your sex partners.
  • Get vaccinated.
  • Avoid other STDs.
  • Get tested for STDs regularly.
  • Do not skip your Pap test.
  • Always use a condom.

Quick facts about HPV

  • About 80% of all sexually active individuals contract HPV at least once in their lifetime.
  • An estimated 79 million Americans have an active HPV infection at any given moment.
  • HPV causes an estimated 44000 HPV-associated cancers in the US every year.
  • Doctors consider HPV responsible for about 90% of anal and cervical cancers.
  • Doctors consider HPV responsible for about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers.
  • Doctors consider HPV responsible for about 60% of penile cancers.
  • HPV may cause oropharyngeal cancer too.
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What are the complications of genital warts?

The most severe complication of an HPV infection is cancer. As mentioned previously, HPV is responsible for almost 90% of anal and cervical cancers, 60% of penile cancers, and 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers. HPV might also cause malignancies in the oral cavity. You can get HPV in the mouth by performing oral sex to an individual with HPV in his or her genitals or anus. Although HPV does not always cause cancer, women need to do regular Pap tests. In rare situations, large genital warts may lead to complications during pregnancy or even to the transmission of genital warts in the baby's throat. 

HPV and vaccination

Some strains of HPV are preventable through immunization. Doctors recommend immunization for both men and women, with the latest vaccine called Gardasil 9. Keep in mind that most men with a genital HPV infection do not know they have it because they are usually asymptomatic. Adverse effects of the vaccine are mild, and they include some of the following:

  • The injection site might feel a bit sore.
  • You might experience headache.
  • You might think you have the flu.
  • You might have a low-grade fever.

However, before getting vaccinated, make sure you get tested first to see if you are positive for these strains of the virus.